Wednesday, June 22, 2022

A Tribute to The Cathay Cineplex at Handy Road

Update: This article has been updated as I've went for one more final screening at The Grand Cathay with Top Gun: Maverick on it's last day of operations.

Ahh, The Cathay Cineplex at Handy Road near Dhoby Gaut MRT Station, a classic, iconic cineplex with a recognizable front facade that has real personal significance to me as it is one of my favourite go-to cineplexes for the latest blockbusters. Or so it was. Unfortunately, just last Friday (17 June), the sad news came that that this cineplex will be closed by 27 June. So literally the day after this was announced, I decided to visit this cineplex one last time, and booked 2 movies to watch there, back-to-back I might add, which is something that I don’t think I have ever done before. So, as you read this post documenting my last visit to this cineplex, as well as sharing some of my most memorable experiences in this cinema for the last 16 years, I hope this is the best tribute that I can give to this cinema that has served many moviegoers well over the decades, myself included.

First of all, it should be noted that the building is definitely not going away, as it’s only the cineplex within the building that will no longer be operated by Cathay Cineplexes after 26 June, and obviously this building cannot legally be demolished as the front facade has been gazetted as a national monument. Although the history of this building, which I will not go into too much detail here, goes a lot further than its closure in 2000 for redevelopment and subsequent reopening in March 2006, I only started to frequent this cinema after that 2006 reopening, as I wanted to try their new THX certified hall, which was Hall No. 1, The Grand Cathay. I can still remember the first movie that I watched at that hall, which was Ice Age 2: The Meltdown. As a young teenager who was just starting to appreciate the movie-going experience, I was blown away at that hall’s sound system, which really shows its prowess during that movie’s end credits song that has deep bass from the percussion drums that I still cannot replicate in my own home theatre setup. How I wished this cinema was reopened a year earlier so that I can watch Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in that hall, which would have been a perfect fit for that movie, which was mastered with THX in mind.

Another significant milestone that this cinema has to me is that The Grand Cathay was the cinema hall that I experienced digital projection for the first time with the release of Cars in June 2006. I was literally blown away by the clarity of digital projection compared to traditional film projection, and was convinced this was the future of cinema projection. And the following year in 2007, I’ve watched several major blockbusters at the time in that hall with the likes of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Also in that year, THX rolled out a new pre-show trailer called Amazing Life in their certified cinemas. I remember watching that trailer in The Grand Cathay, and I literally jumped out of my seat as the powerful bass rocked the hall when those mushrooms boomed. Ever since then, I always used that trailer to test any home theatre system, and I’ve yet to have seen one that can replicate that crazy bass that the sound system in The Grand Cathay could make. Unfortunately, during those blockbuster screenings, the halls were so filled up that we could only get the front row seats, and because 4K cinema projectors didn’t exist at the time, it was through that up-close experience that I realised the flaws of 2K-only resolution projection back then, which didn’t look sharp at all when we were that close to the screen.

There were, of course, many other movies that I’ve watched at The Grand Cathay over the years, but one particularly memorable screening that I had in this hall was in 2012, when Lucasfilm Singapore had hosted a special screening of The Avengers for people in the animation and visual effects industry. As I was working in the animation industry at the time, I had the privilege of being invited to this screening, where the Lucasfilm guys gave a short presentation before the movie, where they show their behind-the-scenes visual effects work on the film, like how they created the Hulk, etc., and they told us to stay in our seats during the credits so that we can applaud when the visual effects artists’ names appeared on the screen.

There was a time that this LiHO Bubble Tea shop was an additional box office for movie tickets.

So, as I was approaching the box office, I noticed there was a longer queue that I expected, which surprised me as I assumed that Cathay Organisation was closing this cineplex because of the low volume of patrons. Or perhaps these patrons have heard the news of its impending closure, so they all decided to flock to it for the last time? Anyway, I proceeded to collect my 2 tickets, the first of which was for the movie Lightyear. I’ve gotta be honest, I wasn’t intending to watch this movie in cinemas now, but since I wanted to spend as much time as I can in this cineplex, I decided might as well throw another movie in there, even if it’s not screening at The Grand Cathay. This is not a review of the movies I watched that day, but I’d say that Lightyear was pretty…meh.

So right after that movie ended, I hung around for 20 minutes, then it was time for the blockbuster-type movie that would have been best experienced at The Grand Cathay, and I managed to get it after some fiddling on the Cathay Ticketing website, which was Jurassic World: Dominion. I find it weird that the Cathay website didn’t have a specific section to see what movies are screening at The Grand Cathay, and I had to check the individual timings one by one to see if it was in Hall 1.

A final picture of The Grand Cathay hall that I could capture.

So although, by right, no photography is allowed at the hall, I had to snap this picture of the hall since it was literally going to be the last time at The Grand Cathay, but I actually noticed I wasn’t the only one taking pictures of the hall. I guess most people here would have known that it would be their last time here, hence the picture taking.

In recent years, I’ve actually noticed that The Grand Cathay has not displayed it’s THX certification outside for quite some time, so I’m gonna guess that it didn’t bother to renew its certification, which could explain why my aural experience of viewing Jurassic World Dominion, as well as the “all around you” Dolby 7.1 trailer before it, feels a little less impressive than it was back in the day. Something about it was lacking, like there was a lack of very deep bass that I had experienced before in this very theatre in other movies. It could be because the subwoofer was not working right, but it also could just be the movie’s own sound mix, but I get the impression that the theatre was not well-maintained for many years. I also was a little disappointed that Cathay Organisation didn’t choose The Grand Cathay as one of the halls to upgrade to Dolby Atmos, as that would have gone a long way in improving the viewing experience and attracting more patrons. I believe this may have been one of the factors that people didn’t return to this once-great theatre hall, including myself, when there are other better IMAX and Dolby Atmos theatres around the country. Also, for some reason, as you can see earlier in the photo above, the ambient red lights at the front left of the hall didn’t seem to be working right.

It’s really painful to say goodbye to this classic cinema which has given me so many memorable movie-going experiences for the past 16 years I’ve been visiting it. I truly felt that the cinema probably wouldn’t have to come to this state if Cathay Organisation have given it the upgrades and good maintenance it deserves. But we also had to deal with a pandemic that has hit the cinema industry pretty hard. I remember that the No Time to Die poster was still pasted on the Level 6 elevator doors for more than a year and had to have the release date covered with tape because of all the delays. So I can understand where this decision comes from, even if I wished it didn’t have to happen. For now, it looks like the indie cinema operator The Projector is going to take over operations of the cinema for the time being, and they’ll be calling it Projector X: Picturehouse, so although there will be no more blockbuster screenings here, here’s hoping that this classic cinema will still serve some of its original purpose for as long as it can.

Godspeed, The Cathay Cineplex. We will miss all the good times we have together.


So not long after this article was published, I just got word that The Cathay would be screening their last movie at The Grand Cathay with Top Gun: Maverick, and since I've seen that movie about a month ago and loved it, I couldn't pass on the opportunity. So I also took this opportunity to take more final photos of this place:

These additional box offices have been empty for quite a while now, 
and they will be for good...

There was still a decent crowd and queue at The Cathay's box office, 
though not as massive as one would expect...

The Grand Cathay hall exterior in it's final glory...

The final credits of Top Gun: Maverick rolls as patrons bid their final goodbye.

As I entered the screening hall, I was also given a Top Gun: Maverick badge from what I believe is a Cathay staff member as a thank you for attending the final screening.

And so the days of The Cathay Cineplex ends here. Whether you've been to this cinema before or after it's modern revamp during it's 83 years of history, I'm sure everyone will cherish the memories of their movie magic experience here. I've said my farewell earlier before, and I'll say it again now. Farewell, The Cathay Cineplex, and may you always live in our memories.

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